Our dynamic New Zealander handyman, Arden, descended upon us early this morning, to dismantle a built-in cupboard. In the clearing out process, I came across some programmes dating back to the year I started living in London. I had a new love in my life then, opera, and the above evidences my first visit to see Verdi's Rigoletto. That was its 357th performance at the Royal Opera House, with Edward Downes at the helm of Zeffirelli's sumptuous production. American baritone, Cornell MacNeil sang the jester, with the lovely Reri Grist as his daughter. Though I can't give any critical analysis of that performance, the opera is one I have come to cherish through a number of subsequent listenings. I have a 1960 version on CD, with Bastianini, Scotto - and Alfredo Kraus: the only time I saw him was as the Duke at Covent Garden in February 1974: I remember standing at the back of the Stalls Circle for what was a sensational individual performance. Notwithstanding this warm memory, I have to rate as my top choice the 1956 Tullio Serafin recording, which I also have, with Gobbi, Callas and di Stefano.
Naturally, therefore, I was eager to catch the relay from the Opera House of its 497th performance tonight, sitting in the comfort of Cheltenham Cineworld. Nor I was I disappointed although, dynamically, John Eliot Gardiner's rendition nowhere approaches Serafin's, save possibly in the great quartet. This was - as ever for me - the highlight. David McVicar's production leaves little to the imagination. (Do we need full frontal male nudity? And how anyway do you carry out a rape without an erection?) Dimitri Platanias looks terrific in the name part, acts and sings superbly: his only disadvantage is being encumbered with a pair of distracting Lekis - and not being Tito Gobbi. Ekaterina Siurina's Gilda was likewise a great joy to hear; and Christine Rice's portrayal of the Act III mezzo role was as outstanding as we've come to expect from her.